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Ferguson Township to Draft Ordinance for Potential Impact Fee on Plastic Bags

by and on June 03, 2019 5:00 AM

Ferguson Township is moving forward with an initiative to potentially lower plastic bag use in the township after the board of supervisors agreed to draft an ordinance that would impose an impact fee on single-use plastic bags at retailers that use them. This would be the first type of this kind of ordinance in the county.

Once the document is drafted by township staff, the supervisors will review the ordinance before a public hearing is held to discuss the matter. After the public hearing the board will vote on the ordinance.

Township Manager David Pribulka said he think the ordinance should not take too long to draft since it will be straight forward in its intent. He said some decisions will need to be made about the fee and what retailers will do with the fee.

The board first discussed the idea last fall after it received petitions from citizens concerning the matter. A public hearing was held in November.

Supervisors voted 3 to 1 to move forward with the draft, with Richard Killian being the opposing vote, and Steve Miller, Peter Buckland and Laura Dininni voting in favor. Supervisor Tony Ricciardi was not present at the meeting to vote.

Since the public hearing, township staff was directed by the board to conduct an analysis to solicit stakeholder input and to identify any potential legal obstacles to implementing a plastic bag ban or impact fee. The Penn State Sustainability Institute was engaged to assist in the effort and graduate students from Penn State Law have completed their analysis.

At the May 20 board meeting, Dr. Lara Fowler from Penn State Law presented the conclusion that her students arrived at to the board, with some option to manage the use of plastic bags. Those options include a fee for one-time-use bags, free reusable bags, having business in the area agree on a fee or create a forum to have businesses adopt voluntary fee that they all agree upon.

The issue is a hot topic nationally as three states have an outright ban of plastic bags including California, New York and Vermont. Some states are working toward not allowing individual municipalities to enact such an ordinance.

Community members addressed the council in support of the ban because of the environmental impact of plastic. They cited the growing amount of plastic in the oceans and the impact of the product that takes a long time to break down.

“We all know about plastic bags. I've got zillions of them at home. I’m sure we all do. We know that they are part of contributing to climate change because they are a petrochemical product that is made by fossil fuels, so they have their share of carbon that they are injecting into the atmosphere. For that purpose alone we should seriously consider a ban. We have got to stop this somewhere,” said township resident Andy McKinnon. “Someday, if we don’t stop this craziness, we could literally be suffocating in plastic.”

“The way I would see it is that it would apply to any retailer who uses plastic bags. The idea is to get people aware of the issue and at the same time, having a fee will discourage the use of it. In my opinion that is probably the most successful way to get buy-in from everyone is to ease into it that way and later look at other things.”

Killian said he felt the draft was premature because he would like to get more input from retailers, but Fowler said the study did include input from retailers in the area.

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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